The Zero Club: 4 relievers remain

H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Only four relievers in baseball are still pitching with a clean slate.

We're just about five weeks into the season, where weird streaks and fluky stats are still commonplace, but it's just about to the point that we have to give them some credence. With that in mind, let's take a look at the four remaining relievers* who are still sporting a sparkling 0.00 ERA with a minimum of 10 innings pitched and see if we can divine how they're doing that thing they do. Let's hope they don't leave us onedering.

*Fernando Abad was the fifth member of the club, until he allowed a run for the Athletics in the eighth inning in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Mariners on Wednesday.

Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals

Left for breaking (if not broken) after a 2013 season that saw him unable to miss bats like he used to, Soriano is off to a roaring start in 2013. If it's possible to look bad posting a 43-save season with 3.11 ERA, Soriano did it. The surface stats were good, but the decline in his strikeout rate was staggering, as it fell a full six percentage points, down to 18.4 percent. That's three percent below league-average for relief pitchers, and a definite red flag. All that has changed in 2014, as he's upped his strikeout rate to 29.6 percent and it looks like he's got his slider to thank for it. Per Brooks Baseball, Soriano saw his slider usage drop to a career-low 15.6 percent last year. Thus far in 2014 though, he's pushed it back up to 26 percent while concurrently increasing the whiff percentage on the pitch from 13.7 percent to 19.6 percent. It's no small wonder he's been able to run off such an impressive streak with his slider back to form.

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers_photo_credit-_kirk_irwin_medium

Photo credit: Kirk Irwin

While he was terrific last year, I'm not sure anybody saw this coming from Rodriguez. He's not only assumed the closer's role in Milwaukee, he's giving not giving opposing hitters a chance, striking out just under 40 percent, a 12 point bump from an already impressive 2013 rate. The other way he's making it happen? Ground balls. Rodriguez is burning worms at a 50 percent clip, which would be the second highest rate of his career. This jives with the pitch selection data as Brooks Baseball has him throwing sinkers 18.25 percent of the time, a 14 point increase over last year. He's also upped his changeup usage by nine percent, which accounts for the added swings and misses, given it's lethal nature.

Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals

Perhaps the least likely member of this club, Crow isn't much of a bat-misser, so he relies on the defense behind him to keep his ERA squeaky-clean. Fortunately for Crow, it's a good infield defense behind him; he keeps them busy, generating ground balls 54.3 percent of the time. His pitch mix features more four-seam fastballs than ever before, but there's no particular reason that would lead to such a drastic improvement for Crow. In the end, it's likely that he's just on the receiving end of some good luck -- well, all these pitchers are -- as his BABIP is down around .200, remarkably low for a pitcher with a .293 career rate.

Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco Giants

Affeldt_photo_credit-_dilip_vishwanat_medium

Photo credit: Dilip Vishwanat

You might think a random LOOGY like Affeldt would be the least likely guy to post zeroes this far into a season instead of a guy like Crow, but Affeldt has the built in advantage of going primarily against same-handed opponents. He's also posting the best strikeout rate of his career (26.3 percent), well above the paltry 14.4 percent he recorded in 2013. His groundball rate is a stupefying 76 percent, right now, which jives with his sinker-heavy attack.

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